“The last thing any child should be afraid of is a police officer,” Lt. Col. Melvin Russell, chief of the Community Partnership Division for the Baltimore City Police Department, said in a recent Education Nation panel titled “Education as Empowerment.”
The death of Freddie Gray last year and the protests that followed had a profound impact on one of the city’s most vulnerable populations: its students. Last week, nearly a year later, Education Nation and local NBC affiliate WBAL 11 hosted a parent town hall in Baltimore to find out how officials have been improving police and community relations and supporting students as they process what they experienced and move forward with their education.
Executive Director of the Office of Engagement for Baltimore City Public Schools Hassan Charles said that the unrest has provided a key moment for the district to reflect upon its own power in a time when many students expressed feeling powerless. Since the uprisings, he says the district has doubled down on its efforts to provide meaningful avenues for students to express and advocate for their own views.
“Our philosophy as a school district is that it really takes a village,” Charles said. “We have to be more intentional and more deliberate about how we involve not just our students, but their parents and the entire community in the education of our students and the achievement of our students.”
He said that the district intends to focus on social-emotional learning and character development, which are important to creating an environment of continuous learning, with the students at the center.
“These problems did not start with Freddie Gray, and people have been working a long time trying to make some inroads in these problems,” NBC News Chief Education Correspondent Rehema Ellis said. “The good news is, the work is continuing.”
Videos from the forum are now hosted online at the Parent ToolKit website, a subset of NBC News Education Nation, and the broadcast of the full event is available from NBC. The event was sponsored by Pearson.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Air: A Video Blog blog.